PeerJ spoke to Dr. Pablo E. Penchaszadeh winner of the Carlo Heip Award

by | May 22, 2023 | Awards

PeerJ spoke to Dr. Pablo E. Penchaszadeh about winning the Carlo Heip Award from the International Association for Biological Oceanography. Read about Carlo Heip’s Legacy here.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Pablo E. Penchaszadeh, and I am affiliated with the Museo Argentino De Ciencias Naturales – Conicet. I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During the summertime, my family used to relocate to Mar del Plata, a coastal city. The South Atlantic Ocean in this region is known for its strong winds and magnificent rocky shores, where waves crash dramatically. As a child, I would often ride my bike to fish from these rocks and collect mollusc shells and other invertebrates, especially after storms. At the age of 16, my life took a turn when I came across a building facing the sea with the name “INSTITUTO DE BIOLOGÍA MARINA.” It was a pivotal moment that fueled my interest in marine life.

I pursued my studies at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires and obtained my MSc degree in 1966. The 1960s in Buenos Aires were a vibrant time for me as a teenager. Everything seemed to move at a fast pace. Alongside my studies, I was actively involved in the choir, and I also dabbled in sculpture and painting. Students from different schools would go on camping trips to southern Patagonia, exploring the national parks and their breathtaking mountains, lakes, and captivating environments. It was an unforgettable experience of friendship. During those years, we were enthralled by the music of The Beatles, Bossa Nova, and Astor Piazzolla’s tango. Buenos Aires was alive and bustling like a grand club. I felt incredibly fortunate to be a teenager in this vibrant city.

However, in June 1966, a fascist military regime overthrew the democratic government, and within a month, they forcibly entered the university. Everyone – including the Dean, professors, and students were beaten and imprisoned. The universities were closed, and 400 professors were dismissed from the science faculty alone. Suddenly, the lights went out, and Argentina entered a period of darkness. Many intellectuals and scholars were forced into exile. Thankfully, the Institute in Mar del Plata managed to survive with 60% of its staff.

Fortunately, I received a UNESCO fellowship that allowed me to go to Denmark. Subsequently, I was fortunate once again to visit Marseille and then returned to Argentina with a fellowship from the National Council of Scientific Research, specifically to Mar del Plata. It was during this time that I got married and had three daughters. I completed my PhD in 1974. However, in 1976, another coup d’état took place. By then, approximately 30,000 people had been kidnapped and “disappeared,” and an estimated 1.8 million people had been exiled.

In order to escape with my small family, I secured a job at the new and prestigious Venezuelan university, Simon Bólivar, in Caracas. I arrived on September 1, 1975, and in the same month, I conducted my first sampling of macrofauna on a sandy beach.

Once again, luck was on my side, and I began a new chapter of my life in Venezuela. My primary research interests continued to revolve around invertebrate diversity, reproduction, ecology, and population dynamics of commercial species. Additionally, I delved into studying contamination, the effects of thermoelectric facilities, and mercury in the trophic chains. Another significant aspect of my work involved teaching and mentoring young scientists to carry on the torch.

As democracy began to crumble in Venezuela, I decided to retire and returned to Argentina.

What does receiving the Carlo Heip Award mean to you?

Receiving the Excellence Carlo Heip Award is the most significant recognition I have received in my academic career. I feel deeply honored, and it also serves as a means to convey to my students that working in science entails moments of great emotion. It involves discovering unique reproductive strategies in previously unknown organisms and understanding how native fauna can combat the introduction of exotic species.

The Carlo Heip Award demonstrates that hard work in pursuing one’s genuine interests will always be acknowledged, even if you come from a remote country without sophisticated research equipment. All you need are good questions and the understanding that valuable answers often emerge from isolated places where enthusiastic teams of scientists collaborate. I believe that the Carlo Heip Award underscores the importance of collaboration among different laboratories to achieve common objectives.

What are the regions/geographical areas you’ve most enjoyed working?

In terms of geographical areas, without a doubt, I have most enjoyed working in Patagonia and the southern Caribbean, including coastal and shelf areas. I have been amazed by their unique biodiversity. Additionally, in recent years, we have had the opportunity to explore a whole new world in the deep sea of Argentina.

Is there a specific piece of work from your career that you feel most proud of?

While there isn’t a specific piece of work from my career that I feel most proud of, I take great pride in the entirety of my scientific journey. The continuous pursuit of discovering new knowledge over almost 60 years, despite being exiled due to two coup d’états and having to rebuild laboratories from scratch, has been an extraordinary endeavor. I am proud of the quality of science that my students have created and continue to create.

What do you think is the most important focus for your research area in the future?

Looking ahead, I believe that studying the diversity of reproductive modes in invertebrates is of utmost importance. Specifically, I am dedicated to exploring the evolutionary strategies employed by these organisms to avoid swimming larvae and understanding how connectivity functions in the Patagonian canyons, which extend down to 4,000 meters.

Are there any organisms/species you’ve worked with that you have a particular fondness for? 

Among the organisms and species I have worked with, there is one that holds a special place in my heart. In the southern Caribbean, there is a snail with a shell that exhibits a beautiful design resembling a pentagram with musical notes. It was described by Linnaeus in 1758 as Voluta musica. I have conducted studies on its reproduction alongside my colleagues, and this species has brought us immense satisfaction.


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